Thursday, September 18, 2008

Good Point

Some of my frustration with this election has been that there seems more red/blue disconnect than even the Bush/Gore 2000 election. Seriously. I was quite proud of being able to "simultaneously translate" each side to the other as a centrist, and see the points on both sides. Well, again, there are some points to be seen on both sides, but the amount of white noise is . . . . well, overwhelming. And blogs I didn't see as really biased before (tainted, perhaps, but not biased) are appearing to be so - moderate republicans and dems who are towing the party line and seemingly brushing aside the critiques of their candidates.

I was reading Matthew Yglesias' blog and he seems to put a finger on it, albiet in a democrat/left mode:
. . . [W]hen you have a strong ex ante belief that someone is well-informed about a subject, you tend to overlook their mistakes as not indicative of any larger trend. And that seems like a fair procedure. If I were to say “RSS” when I meant “HTML” you’d think I misspoke — I’m a blogger, I know what HTML is and I know what RSS is. But if McCain were to do something like that, we’d say this is another example of him genuinely not understanding information technology. Nothing wrong with a double standard.

Perhaps what I'm seeing is a related effect. Those who are predisposed in favor of a candidate are tending to write off the gaffes of the candidate as minor slips in an otherwise sound choice, but note gaffes from the other side as more evidence their person is incompetent. I know from the communications classes I took in undergrad (one of my BA majors was journalism) that people tend to form core beliefs, and then to filter information through those beliefs, almost like a screen/screening process. They have a tendency to accept information that reinforces these beliefs as true, and reject challenges to the core belief as false. And if I recall correctly, it not only goes for their core beliefs, but superficial biases as well - sports fans tended to see more fouls committed against their team, so the same game can look quite different depending upon which side of the stands you're sitting on.

Okay, here's a reality check that's going to probably get me in trouble with everyone:

1) Obama is not the most experienced candidate the democrats could have fielded.
2) Palin has even less experience than he does.
3) Experience is not the issue. Competence is.
4) McCain's POW status is irrelevant to his performance as president.
5) Incidentally, so is Palin's ability to shoot a moose and Obama's ability to make a three-point shot.
6) All the candidates have kids. Get over it. PS - nobody really gives a shit.
7) Anyone who votes for or against a candidate based solely on that candidate's race or gender is an idiot.
8) Likewise anyone who votes against the issues/solutions they believe in to send some sort of message. Cut nose, spite face.
9) The President cannot pass laws, only Congress can. They can, however, veto them. The president also cannot create a communist system of government, or outlaw abortion, or fill the congress with their high-school classmates. They can, however, appoint cabinet members and nominate people to the Supreme Court.
10) The candidates have actual policies. Though they do split along party lines, they are nuanced and they don't necessarily say what you think they say. Do not assume Candidate X is for something just because you think of it as a conservative/liberal issue. Read the damn reports.

Here are four correlating thoughts that are more personal opinion:
1) Neither side is doing anything remarkably unexpected when you cut through the rhetoric. The Republicans are advocating free market and tax incentives for big business to stimulate business growth and better health care coverage, the Democrats are advocating tax breaks for the poor and middle class, and want the Government to pick up the slack if big business won't do it. McCain is not Hitler. Obama is not Lenin.
2) Social issues are likewise generally split along party lines. Pro-Lifers should look at McCain, Pro-Choicers Obama, etc. Neither side is the anti-Christ, they just like to sound that way.
3) Things are a mess, particularly in the areas of economics and foreign policy. Although I advocate as little government as is necessary, from what I'm seeing, it's necessary. The only question is which direction to jump, left or right. While some of the mess can go back as far as the Clinton years, Bush has been in office long enough and his acting or failure to act is the nearest proximate cause.
4) For God's sake, will the next candidate who changes their mind on some topic simply admit that you've rethought the issue based on new information and stop trying to synthesize the two positions? The latter simply makes you look as though you are either: a) clueless as to the distinctions; or b) a liar. Correlating point: candidates who lie piss me off.

. . .

I suppose this has degenerated somewhat into a centrist rant. On second thought, that seems sorely lacking in the debate so I think I'll keep it.

UPDATE UPDATE: Someone I know has asked to forward the list. I thought about it, and revised it a bit to separate out things that are more my opinion from the actual truths. That way if the damn thing gets out of my control, I've got a hard copy that I can say I'm standing by.

UPDATE (Expanded): I included #9 as examples of side stuff the media (and the blogosphere) seem entranced with that are truly side points - Palin's alleged proclivity to put high school classmates into positions of power in Alaska (Do we she's going to pack the congress or the bench with them?), painting Obama as imposing a communist regime and tossing capitalism (Via what? Military coup? They can't make laws, people).

I wanted a McCain example and it was harder finding scare stories about the horrible things McCain might do if elected, so I grabbed the big thing from yesterday and used McCain's statement about firing Cox, meaning it as an example of media implications that he's basically become senile and has no clue after a gagillion years in Washington he still doesn't know how the government works, and so will presumably be wandering around picking flowers while Palin runs the government.

But then realized it wasn't a good example, as it a) was something the candidate was claiming for themselves and not imposed upon them, and b) the implication is far more tenuous; c) the situation is far more complex: as legal scholars are correctly pointing out, Humphrey's Executor v. US does allow for a president to remove an FTC commissioner for ""inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office." Actually, what it says is basically that when Congress provides for the appointment of officers whose functions, like those of the Federal Trade Commissioners, are of Legislative and judicial quality, rather than executive, and limits the grounds upon which they may be removed from office, the President has no constitutional power to remove them for reasons other than those so specified. The FTC enabling statute had inefficiency, neglect of duty or malfeasance as grounds, so FDR would have needed to prove that to have lawfully removed Humphrey. Well in the case of the SEC, the enabling Act does not expressly give to the President the power to remove a commissioner. Professor Bainbridge rightly indicates that a 10th Circuit opinion states, when referring to the SEC in light of the Humphrey case, that "We note that Morrison is predicated in part upon Humphrey, which stands generally for the proposition that Congress can, without violating Article II, authorize an independent agency to bring civil law enforcement actions where the President's removal power was restricted to inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office." But note that: 1) The 10th Circuit is not the Supreme Court, and 2) As I read Humphrey, it actually stands more for the general proposition that when Congress clearly intends to limit the power of removal to specific ennumerated causes, it will only be appropriate if one of those causes is shown. Because no such causes are listed here, I'm thinking the President cannot fire an SEC commissioner, but there's a chance the Court could jump the other way and say that Congress is silent on the subject of removal so we need to look to tradition and other sources to divine their probable intent for grounds, and cite Humphrey as supporting the idea that inefficiency, malfeasance and neglect were implicit in the statute's silence as Congress could not possibly mean to immunize commissioners from removal altogether. However - as Professor Bainbridge also points out, the President can remove him from the post of chairman:
What is not debatable, however, is that “The Chairman of the SEC serves as such solely at the pleasure of the President.” Harvey L. Pitt & Karen L. Shapiro, Securities Regulation by Enforcement: A Look Ahead at the Next Decade, 7 Yale J. on Reg. 149, 280 n.557 (1990). Indeed, the Tenth Circuit so held in the Blinder, Robinson case cited above. See 855 F.2d at 681, stating that “as the President has the power to choose the chairman of the SEC from its commissioners to serve an indefinite term, it follows that the chairman serves at the pleasure of the President.”
Thus, everyone is now apparently arguing about not only whether McCain meant "fire" or "ask to resign," but also "fire" or "demote back to just being a commissioner," etc.

However, it does pull the post back to the original idea - those who see McCain as basically competent in the first place are presuming he understood what the cases say and simply didn't clarify enough, and the other side is completely clueless by their not understanding what he was referring to. Meanwhile, those who see McCain as incompetent are claiming it as yet another example of his basic lack of understanding of government, and see the other side as in denial. My take: I doubt he was thinking all this when he spoke, or had parsed it this carefully. The 10th Circuit case says that there's a tradition that commissioners can be removed for the malfeasance stuff in Humphrey, he might have been speaking of that. He might have just thought it sounded good and was speaking in general terms of throwing out incompetent people. But given the complexity of the issue, it's a bad example either way.

See why this is driving me nuts? Seriously. Scan the blogs and the media, not the right and left fringe but people who in the past you’ve seen bring up points on both sides, who have tried to be fair. Recall where they stand on this particular election, whether dem or gop. Now scan their posts/articles for contrary points. I’ve been looking at one or two, and here’s what I’ve found – when the other side has a valid point, it’s generally being ignored. When the other side is wrong, it’s being hammered into the ground. At least the discourse is still relatively civil, except in the comments. But it’s more biased, more divided. Why? Is it, as some people I’ve talked to claim, because the public feels that the crisis today is more serious than it has been in the past, and therefore pundits feel like there’s too much at stake? I suspect that’s a large part of it, but I would think that there would be a counter-movement out there, people who are arguing that because there is so much at stake, it’s too important to not be bi-partisan. Is it because there is now so much choice out there for news sources that people who have an opinion are gathering into their own little corner of the blogosphere and cable channels, and not even bothering to bridge the gap, so they’re honestly unaware of the other side’s points? Quite possibly. I’ve found the more fringe sites on both sides blatantly guilty of truncating quotes to skew away from criticism.

Perhaps it’s just me. I’m recalling past elections, before the ‘net got huge and back when we only had network news. There’d be commercials, and some would jump all over them, but the majority of the people I knew would simply write them off as PR and figure out who they liked based on outlines of policy, whether from the paper, or in class, or by watching debates. There were some notable exceptions, of course, but that seemed the general rule. Now it seems that the commercials have crept into the news, the blogs, the public discourse. They’re no longer the sideshow, they’re the main event. How many people out there can actually give a basic understanding of the economic plans of each side, not just repeat some quote about how many houses the other side owns? How many know what the health care plans really are, not just some hype about socialists taking over the country? I hope there’s a bunch of them. I’m afraid there isn’t. This is what’s scaring me.

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